Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday, December 1, 2001

No get out of jail card for women: Amery

By Deborah Cameron
Sydney Morning Herald

Hard cell ... Anne Webb, left, and Eileen Baldry protest against the new prison at South Windsor.
Photo: Paul Miller

A new $48 million women's prison on the Sydney fringe remains the Carr Government's answer to a ballooning problem despite calls for a rethink.

With more women than ever behind bars - numbers went up by 67 per cent between 1995 and 2001 - the Minister for Corrective Services, Richard Amery, does not expect the picture to change.

He does not accept that women who are a low security risk should be kept out of jail, as social workers, criminologists and an upper house committee have recommended. Neither has a protest vigil at the South Windsor site persuaded him.

Mr Amery said judges would decide whether a woman should go into custody and what should be done with her children.

"I am not going to find new innovative ways of keeping women out of prison if they don't deserve to be."

But the upper house committee on the increase in the jail population has recommended that the Government find better ways to deal with women, particularly those who cannot make bail and end up in custody by default.

The chairman of the committee, John Ryan, said the jail would not solve any problems. More effort needed to go into reform, rehabilitation, treatment of mental illness and ensuring families were not destroyed.

The statistics show women in jail are poor, uneducated, mentally ill and sick from drug use. The Department of Corrective Services says 80 per cent of them are hepatitis C-positive,

and most are in prison for property crimes, because of alcohol and drug dependence.

Dr Eileen Baldry, of the University of NSW, said women caught in a crime cycle also dragged down their children. She told the story of a 10-year-old whose mother was jailed for marijuana offences. He became a runaway and an armed robber before dying recently.

"I am in no doubt that his mother should not have been taken to prison. The courts should have made an arrangement that allowed her to care for her son."

Copyright © 2001. The Sydney Morning Herald